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Rivendell Students Urged to Be Aware of Warning Signs of Mental Illness

  • Students at Rivendell Academy listen as John Broderick, the former chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, speaks about mental illness on Jan. 25, 2018 in Orford, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • John Broderick, the former chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, speaks to students about mental illness at Rivendell Academy in Orford, N.H., on Jan. 25, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Vermont Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe, left, Rivendell Academy social studies teacher Kristen Surprenant and New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut talk at Rivendell Academy after a discussion on mental health on Jan. 25, 2018, in Orford, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Kate Paxton, Rivendell Academy's interim school counselor talks during a discussion on mental illness at the school on Jan. 25, 2018 in, Orford, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, January 28, 2018

Orford — “I need your help,” was a refrain running through a presentation given by John Broderick, former chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, at Rivendell Academy on Thursday morning.

Broderick, who is now senior director of public affairs for Dartmouth-Hitchcock, asked the dozens of middle and high school students seated on bleachers in Rivendell’s gymnasium for their assistance in eliminating the stigma against people with a mental illness. It’s a stigma Broderick said prevented him from recognizing that the older of his two sons, Christian, was suffering from a mental illness before Christian assaulted him in 2002.

“Our goal when I was younger was to keep mental illness quiet,” said Broderick, who described himself as a baby boomer. “We succeeded. That wasn’t the right objective.”

Broderick spoke in front of an audience of New Hampshire high school students, as he had at least 70 times before, and for the first time in front of Vermont students as part of an effort to spread awareness about the signs of mental illness.

It’s a message that seems to be getting through.

Schools such as Mascoma Valley Regional High School in Canaan, where Broderick spoke in the fall, are working to address students’ mental health needs every day, despite funding and workforce challenges.

For this presentation, Broderick was accompanied by New Hampshire Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut and Vermont Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe.

Edelblut, who also joined Broderick last fall for the presentation at Mascoma, said he has been working with Broderick for the past nine months to spread awareness of mental illness to schools across New Hampshire.

Given that treatment is available once mental illness is diagnosed, there’s “no reason that individuals need to suffer in this way,” he said.

Edelblut directed the students to materials placed on a table near the door that describe how people ought to respond should they or someone they know seem to be struggling with a mental illness. The campaign, dubbed the R.E.A.C.T. campaign, directs people to Recognize the signs of emotional suffering; Express concern and offer support; Act by talking to someone they trust; Care enough to follow through and follow up; Text “signs” to 603-741-741 or call 603-448-4400.

Holcombe, who was involved with the creation of the Rivendell interstate school district, said she didn’t think the two states’ education leaders had been there together since the district’s founding, almost two decades ago.

Part of the goal of the academy’s founders was to create a “school where every kid was noticed,” she said. Because a school community is as strong as its individual students, Holcome said, “(we) can’t build strong communities if we are not taking care of each other first and foremost.

“Please take care of each other,” she said. “This is something that we can take on together.”

In his presentation, Broderick detailed his son Christian’s experience with mental illness. Though Broderick didn’t recognize it at the time, Christian began to show signs of mental illness as a 13-year-old. He would spend a lot of time in his room drawing, with the door closed.

“Today, I would describe it as withdrawing,” Broderick said.

Once in high school, Christian began smoking. He had some friends, but not as many as his younger brother. His appearances in the school yearbook were few. Broderick said his son didn’t attend school activities such as dances or basketball games.

Once in college, Christian began drinking. Though not an uncommon activity among college students, Broderick said, Christian’s drinking caused some of his friends to approach Broderick and his wife, Patricia, when they visited the campus.

Though he made it to graduate school, by then Christian could not hide his drinking, which was a part of “every single day,” Broderick said.

After graduate school, Christian got a job, but lost it within four weeks. Then he got another, which he lost in less time. Christian moved home to the family’s residence in Manchester.

Broderick and his wife consulted experts in alcoholism. They told them that they had two options: They could kick him out and hope it would shock his system; or they could let him stay and he would die drinking.

“You can’t drink what he’s drinking and have a long life,” Broderick said the experts told him.

After sending Christian to several different rehab programs, the Brodericks eventually decided to kick him out of their house.

It turned out to be the “single worst decision I’ve ever made in my lifetime,” Broderick said.

Though Christian had to sleep in his car or at a shelter and eat his meals at a soup kitchen, he continued to drink, Broderick said. Unable to stand the sense of dread they felt, the Brodericks brought Christian home after three weeks. It was after his return home that Christian assaulted his father with a guitar one night in March 2002. The assault sent Broderick into intensive care, where he spent roughly a week.

Though his injuries were not outlined in Broderick’s speech, the former judge underwent surgeries to repair crushed bones in his face and jaw and plastic surgeries to address scarring. He was unable to return to work at the court for months.

Christian pleaded guilty to first-degree assault in August 2002. He served 31½ years of a 7½-to-15-year sentence and was released in the fall of 2005, according to a Concord Monitor report at the time.

While in prison, Christian was evaluated by a psychiatrist, who said Christian had been self-medicating with alcohol in an attempt to treat his depression and anxiety.

Once diagnosed, Christian began treatment for his disease. After some time on medication, he was able to sleep, eat and focus as he hadn’t been able to for years before his arrest. He began teaching at the prison and married Tua Bockman in 2004, while incarcerated.

“That was the happiest day in the saddest place,” Broderick recalled.

After Christian’s release, he and his wife moved to Hanover, Broderick said in an email Thursday evening. She worked at Dartmouth College for a time, before the family relocated to Boston. They now live near her aging parents in Sweden.

The couple has a 9-year-old daughter, and though he is admittedly biased, Broderick describes his granddaughter as a “stunningly beautiful child” and as “a miracle.”

Two years ago, Broderick said he embarked on this awareness campaign, which he said is the “most important thing I’ve done in my professional life.”

There was no opportunity for the audience to respond to Broderick’s remarks, but they did give him a standing ovation.

One of the first to stand, was Meghan Bullard, a 24-year-old middle school aide at Rivendell.

In an interview after the presentation, she said Broderick’s remarks helped her “realize that it’s not just you. Everyone has dealt with it in them or in someone they know.”

Bullard, a Woodsville resident and 2012 graduate of Woodsville High School, said she has had depression and anxiety for “most of, if not all of my life.”

She comes from a large family and many members of her family also struggle with mental illness, she said. But, she said, she has been reluctant to seek help.

“I think no matter what age you are, I think it’s a pride thing,” she said.

Rivendell’s principal, Keri Gelenian, in an interview following the presentation, said Broderick’s remarks underscored a mental health challenge that weighs on the minds of educators. In fact, Gelenian said when Rivendell’s budget estimate came in lower than expected recently, the School Board designated $100,000 to address mental health needs in the district.

Money is one thing, Gelenian said, but “the challenge is finding the professional support.”

For example, recently he has struggled to fill the position of middle school counselor.

Thursday’s presentation was not Broderick’s first in the Upper Valley. He also appeared with Edelblut at Mascoma Valley Regional High School in the fall.

Broderick’s appearance at Mascoma fit nicely into the school’s efforts to address students’ social and emotional needs; efforts that the principal, Jim Collins, said are a source of pride.

Broderick’s emphasis on mental health “reinforced what we’re doing,” Collins said. It “made us all feel pretty good.”

The school, which has 340 students, has three guidance counselors, including one whose sole focus is on the ninth grade. Mascoma also has a full-time mental health counselor, a social worker and a drug and alcohol counselor, Collins said.

Mental health issues are also discussed in the school’s health classes, Collins said. While the state requires that students spend half of ninth grade studying health, Mascoma students have a year-long course in the subject, he said.

Though members of the Mascoma community are well-aware of mental illness, they were still touched by Broderick’s personal story.

It drew tears from students and adults in the audience at Mascoma and helped them to see that “mental (illness) is an illness like any other illness,” Collins said. “I think it made a huge difference.”

Valley News Staff Writer Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.